Henry the Fowler

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Henry I the Fowler (German: Heinrich der Finkler or Heinrich der Vogler; Latin: Henricius Auceps) (876 – 2 July 936) was the Duke of Saxony from 912 and King of the Germans from 919 until his death. First of the Ottonian Dynasty of German kings and emperors, he is generally considered to be the founder and first king of the medieval German state, known until then as East Francia. An avid hunter, he obtained the epithet "the Fowler"[1] because he was allegedly fixing his birding nets when messengers arrived to inform him that he was to be king.



Born in Memleben, in what is now Saxony-Anhalt, Henry was the son of Otto the Illustrious, Duke of Saxony, and his wife Hedwiga, daughter of Henry of Franconia and Ingeltrude and a great-great-granddaughter of Charlemagne. In 906 he married Hatheburg, daughter of the Saxon count Erwin, but divorced her in 909, after she had given birth to his son Thankmar. Later that year he married St Matilda of Ringelheim, daughter of Dietrich, Count of Westphalia. Matilda bore him three sons, one called Otto, and two daughters, Hedwige and Gerberga and founded many religious institutions, including the abbey of Quedlinburg where Henry is buried, and was later canonized.


Henry became Duke of Saxony upon his father's death in 912. An able ruler, he continued to strengthen Saxony, frequently in conflict with his neighbors to the South, the dukes of Franconia.

In 918 Conrad I, King of East Francia and Duke of Franconia, died. Although they had been at odds with each other from 912–15 over the title to lands in Thuringia, before he died Conrad recommended Henry as his successor. Conrad's choice was conveyed by Duke Eberhard of Franconia, Conrad's brother and heir, at the Reichstag of Fritzlar in 919. The assembled Franconian and Saxon nobles duly elected Henry to be king. Archbishop Heriger of Mainz offered to anoint Henry according to the usual ceremony, but he refused to be anointed by a high church official — the only King of his time not to undergo that rite — allegedly because he wished to be king not by the church's but by the people's acclaim. Duke Burchard II of Swabia soon swore fealty to the new King, but Duke Arnulf of Bavaria did not submit until Henry defeated him in two campaigns in 921. Last, Henry besieged Ratisbon (Regensburg) and forced Arnulf of Bavaria into submission.

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